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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boa Leash by Blue Ice

I've been using leashes long before there were leashless tools.  I also carried a third tool bitd.  Broken picks and dropped tools are never a good thing.

Grivel and BD both offer a decent leash system.  My problem is that they are "systems".   I have been using a old style Grivel leash that I've had for 5 plus years now.  On occasion I've ventured out with the newest BD Spinner leash, till it proved itself unreliable. But I own them all, Grivel and BD versions and have used prototypes that still aren't available.

I'm not much into fancy stuff when simple will work, as well or better. 

Do a search for umbilicals on the blog here and see what is currently available.  I'll do another comparison soon.

I bought and had a chance to use a pair of the Blue Ice Boa leashes while I was here in Chamonix.   Liked them enough I have set my old Grivel's aside and am using the Boa now full time.
I like they pull test @ 550 daN or 1236 lbf.  No one else committing to over 800 lbs.   BD says 800# but the UIAA test is 450#  which is what the BD and Grivel is rated at,  so why bother? 

Because in climbing gear, more weight, "more better" (strength wise) generally.

More info here:

Now available in NA here:

Soloing on the Passarelle gully, N Face of the Midi with a Boa leash system hitched to my harness and tools.
I'll leave it to you imagination on where the ice really comes from for the start of this climb.  Fun climb in cold conditions, none the less.

I went right and avoided the ladder, the crux stick on that exit being a very old wood cement form.  But I did stop for a quick nap on the opposite viewing platform and  lunch before heading off to ski the rest of the day.  Colin on the same climb a few weeks later.  Only in Chamonix!
from Bjarne">">Bjarne Salén on Vimeo.">Vimeo.>

Boa leash and a Cold Thistle hammer on your Nomic...what more could you need?
Liked them enough that I bought a few extra pairs to bring back to friends in the States.  If you are in the USA and want a pair, send me an email.  26.00 € via Pal Pal will get them out to you on priority mail from Issaquah, WA.

Friday, March 18, 2011


This is from last season but worth a look as the new season is just about to start again.

Mark Allen and Graham Zimmerman make first ascent of 4600-foot alpine big wall in Alaska from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chamonix skiing?

I was first drawn to mountaineering by skiing.  Some of the most fun I had early on in the mountains was skiing in the late spring or summer.  Or better yet out of bounds in the local ski areas.  Grand adventures as a kid.

Chamonix has a long history of off piste skiing.  For us amerikans that is out of bounds or off trail (here there are no "out of bounds").  But you had better take your own safety seriously skiing here.

A very experienced guide skied into a crevasse and died here the second day I was in Chamonix.  That while guiding clients.  I nearly lost two friends in front of my eys our first day here after they took a 1500 foot tumble in a slab avalanche.  Literally a 10 minute walk from the lift.   Skiing is serious sheet here....even on the "normal runs".     If you want something more fun, buckle up, 'cuz it is available  here and people do it every day.  And people die.

10 minute walk off the lift.  And the small ice slope my two buddies were wondering up during a bit of wind.

Same place 3 weeks later taken from farther down slope.

Our chasened heros looking for loss gear above their run out point.  The 4' crown and slab above them on the left.
The 1500' run out and where they were buried.  Cost?  3 new Nomics, a sprained thumb and a crampon point in the calf.  Lesson?  Priceless.

And the signs we ducked under for our little hike that day.
Mind you these are posted where you put your skis on after walking down the stairs from the lift station ;)

I admit to having become bored and jaded skiing in the NW.  I finally stopped skiing altogether almost 10 years ago.  3 consecutive unused season passes told me it was time.  That after years working in ski areas and guiding all sorts of ski trips in the winter.   I never thought I'd ever stop skiiing.  For this trip I knew I'd be skiing again and just thought..."well I'll get by".  Might even be fun.  Either way I knew it was mandatory if I wanted to get around here in winter and climb.

And I have gotten by for the most part.  The "big" or at least well known ski runs that I wanted to do while I was here are generally all on beginner terrain.  Beginner skier terrain at home as far as the skiing goes.  But you had better beware of the actual terrain objective dangers or you might well be swallowed up...whole....and never seen again.  No shit.

I have a buddy who snow boards these big routes (same one buried on day one) with almost no technical knowledge of glacier travel, snow conditions or avalanche danger even after years of boarding.  His idea of avoiding the objective dangers here?  "NEVER STOP" and that on the the  6 to 12 mile runs here!  He is still under a dozen runs on the Mer de I am sending him a a basic avalance-glacier travel book :)   Be nice if he could at least stop for lunch at the hut.

This is a little photo essay for some of the best (if not the best) lift served skiing in the world.  Certainly nothing like it in NA.

The first lift we used was the Grand Montet up at the east end of the valley.  Lift tops out at 3275m.
Point of vue and the run down the Tram line are spectacular.

Yes that is the North face of Le Droites in th back ground.

Out of the Midi maze of tunnels and the entry way to the Vallee Blanche.

The run off the Aiguille Du Midi cable car and down the Vallee Blanche is even better.
Skiing and vistas incredible.

Signs to take seriously and understand what they are asking.

For some the trail down from the Midi to where most put on their skis is a whole new experience.
First time I did it in fall of '78 I wanted crampons where 10 years olds were in sneakers.  And I still prefer doing it in crampons. 

Easy dust off of a tired skier mid way down the 12 mile long run.  Which starts at 3843m btw.

The Requin Hut.....and lunch.  For me at a casual pace an hr in.  And about half way.

A 9 Euro lunch and likely the best deal I have found in Chamonix.

The short bit just before lunch.
You need to dbl click the photos to appreciate the scale here.

Skiing in the Alps!

Angel Collinson - Courmayeur/Chamonix from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

BD athlete Kyle Dempster makes first ascent of Mount Edgar's east face—PART ONE from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Getting schooled in Chamonix.

Intitial gully of the Burnier-Vogler, N. Face of the Midi, yesterday.

A year ago while climbing in the Rockies,  my climbing partner asked, "Where would you go to learn "alpine climbing"?

My quick answer was Chamonix. Every good alpine climber that I have admired over the years has spent some time here.  And I have always thought that what they learned here was a major influence on their climbing careers.

I've been here 12 days.  In that time we've had 40cm of snow, in two dumps.  And as much as I know alpine climbing is all about conditions, I've generally ignored that and climbed anyway.  Wallowing in cold dry snow has followed.   While wearing all the clothes I own.  A few interesting lessons for me already.

No Neve to be found here :)  There was however lots of waist deep snow being shed off the hard, dry ice.

It could be worse.  But at the moment this has been the only result of being slow on route.   Bivy in the WC on the Midi station.  Breakfast and a coffee in town followed after the first lift down the next morning.  If nothing else climbing in Chamonix is sureal.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Black Diamond Prime Ski boot

Here is BD's catalog speil:

The Prime is Black Diamond's premier lightweight alpine touring boot-designed to tackle the world's most challenging ski mountaineering routes or simply to save your legs for one last powder lap. This is our lightest alpine touring boot, featuring a unique 3.5-buckle design that skis with the stiffness and control of a 4-buckle boot. Its state-of-the-art construction keeps weight to an absolute minimum, while our revolutionary Pivoting Cuff Technology delivers the ultimate combination of freedom of motion in walk mode and instant power transfer in ski mode.

Black Diamond Prime Ski Boot Features:
• Lightweight (1.64 kg) 3-buckle alpine touring boot with 4-buckle performance
• Triax Pivot Frame with Flex 110 and unmatched 40° of resistance-free touring motion
• Efficient Fit AT Light Liner with lightweight Boa closure system
• Rockered, rubber outsole with integrated tech inserts provides dramatic grip and durability
• Weight Per Pair: 7lbs. 4oz.
• Flex Index: 110
• Number of Buckles: 3

Here is mine:

In the past I've spent a lot of time in ski boots.  Over a decade working full time at ski areas in different jobs including pro patrol, avalanche control and a tiny bit of teaching.  I've back country ski guided on 3 pin, tele gear and AT gear and heli skied.  All of it in the NW or western Canada.   Right up till this week.

I've had some great boots and some not so great boots.  But a warm boot and one that fit my foot hasn't been all that hard to come by.  I had orthotics made for me in the early '80s and continue to use a good footbed, custom made for my feet and stance.

So I was pretty stoked to get a new alpine touring boot knowing what was in store for me this winter in France.   Having generally skied in a competition style boot I was looking for ski/boot performance over a super light weight boot.  Although I might rethink that decision on my next pair.  No matter, comfort is the real key for me in any boot, climbing or skiing.

The Black Diamond Prime is a three buckle boot that uses a Y strap on the first buckle to avoid the 4th buckle and save a tiny bit of weight.  But as a "new generation" AT boot, it is not light weight by any measure.

But they do indeed ski very well.  Pretty much like a performace ski boot from what I can tell.  Nothing lacking on this boot for performance...I could use it on a pair of old school 207cm GS skis cruising at mach 1 and be happy with the support.

In the morning walking the 15 minutes to the Midi tram from my apartment here in Chamonix I curse the walk mode.  My toes are banging, the rigid sole is....well rigid  There is never enough flex in a ski boot to make them walk "well."   They may walk but it isn't going to be a pleasure.   The ski day here is generally half dozen runs and 20 THOUSAND vertical feet if I can stand up that long.  By then I am happy to unlatch and unbuckle for the walk from the train to the coffee house.  And I love how easy the Primes walk then and the final two blocks back to the apartment.

Life isn't hard on AT boots or your feet here unless you make it that way.

So they ski great, and they a few of the better AT boots I figure.  Which is well enough to keep you from crying at the end of the day here in Chamonix or on the long day trips at Rodgers pass...where the train is generally avoided.

Butttttttttt?!  There is always a but.  I did three trips to my local boot fitter at home with these boots before I left.  Which is excessive even for me.  The inner boot was tight.  Too tight.   You get the was getting ugly.  All to no avail.  Each time we remeasured the shell.  Remember I wanted a "performace fit".  Each time we all agreed the shell was perfect.  Calls to BD Custoemr service and discussions with guys there who actually wear the same size climbing boot as me, all...once more.....agreed on shell size.

Two of the trips to the boot fitter at home would have been ski days.  But the boots were killing me.  The third trip I just flatly ran out of time to ski in them again  before flying to France.  But they were a bit better with each visit.   "Better" being a relative term.

First run here was a 15K and 5000 of vertical down from 11K feet.  Think skiing from the summit of Mt. Hood to the parking lot at Meadows...or where ever 10 miles and a 5000 ft drop in elevation would put you.

At 10K feet I had to have help pulling my boot off and message away a cramp.  Unbelievably hard to get the boot off let alone back on at home.  Imagine that in 40mph winds and -15C.    I have never been happy with the Boa system on any boot I have used.  And the liners on the Primes just reinforce that opinion.  The Boa sucks.   One of the most unplesant 4 hrs I have ever spent in any boot finishing up the Mer De Glace. and walking home from the train.  And that includes walking off the summit of Rainier as my toes unthawed.   This was worse that walking down from Muir in socks.

My next move was find a BD ski boot dealer in Chamonix.  And most importantly someone who was REALLY good at fitting boots.    Easy enough to do here.  Ths place is over flowing with good gear shops and expert staff.  (amazing really just how many and how good!) 

No problem they tell me..10 Euro per boot.  They take 20 minutes looking at, measuring and marking my boot shells and liners.  I am a little worried.  The guys at home are good and I am beginning to think this boot will never be comfortable on my feet.  I'm in Chamonix for chrimney sake...I have to have ski boots I can wear just to get to the climbs.   And the skiing?  No place has skiing like Chamonix.

As I am leaving I notice that have several different models of Palau custom liners on one little corner wall.  Palaus are kinda like Intuition Liners back in the States just better made over all.   I own a pair Intuition myself.   But I also have some Palau liners made for the La Sportiva Baruntse I use in my Spantiks.  The Palau liner is a much better liner that the Intuition imo.  I turn around and we start the bootfitting converstion all over again.

Over lapping tongue on the Palau is much easier to get in and out of than the Boa on the BD liner.  Liners are warmer as well besides the obvious added comfort (dbl tongue for example) even if the BD liner did actually fit.

The retail sales mentality is different in France.  You aren't going to be pushed into buying anything.  Lucky in fact if you can get the sales staff to help you, let alone answer a question.  Sometimes it is annoying.  But I kind of like it generally.  You can look at anything and no one will bug you asking, "can I help you?"  Which can so often sound like "buy something or get the hell out of here!" in the USA.   When I start asking questions on the Palau liners I am politely told they didn't want to sell me something I didn't need.  But going on, in their opinion, as a BD dealer, all the BD boots came with liners too small for the shell.  Which certainly would seem to be my problem when looking at and trying to fit my factory liners.  And the boot fitter goes on,  "almost every BD boot they have sold had the liner replaced with a Palau".

BD boots are not cheap here!  But it does say something for the performance of the BD shell.

The opinions expressed by the Staff after I was fittted and the liners were paid for were even more to the point.   Sanglard, Chamonix's premier ski boot fitter.

20 minutes and 150 Euro later the Palua "Soft" liners were expertly fitted and molded with my orthodics.  Same orthotics that I couldn't even get in the BD liners.     The next day I skied 15K  vert in 2 hours and spent a total of 5 hrs in my boots walking, eating a great lunch and skiing.   I dropped off a nice bottle of wine that night for my sales person/ boot fitter.

Happy now in his new liners on the start of the 15k run down from the Midi.

I now like my BD Primes.  But it might well be a one night stand, 'cuz I aint in love.

Palau liners...designed, patented , serial numbered and made in France.
BD Boa liners.... designed in SLC, made in Thailand
For more on AT ski gear, gear reviews  and opinions, this is the US destination on the internet:
Palau liners in my Primes.